Located 3,000 meters above sea level, Col de la Traversette pass is located in the Cottian Alps, near the French-Italian border. The terrain is treacherous and poses a challenge to any intrepid adventurer.
But imagine leading 30,000 men, 37 elephants, and more than 15,000 horses and mules on such a trek. With so many factors warranting consideration, the challenge only multiplies.
A team of international researchers believe storied Carthagininan general Hannibal utilized the pass on his journey to conquer the Romans—a task at which he ultimately failed.
The clues lie in the dirt and were left by the animals Hannibal brought on his journey.
“Controversy over the alpine route that Hannibal of Carthage followed from the Rhone Basin into Italia has raged amongst classicists and ancient historians for over two millennia,” the researchers wrote in their study published in Archaeometry. “The motivation for identifying the route taken by the Punic Army through the Alps lies in its potential for identifying sites of historical archaeological significance and for the resolution of one of history’s more enduring quandaries.”
Col de la Traversette was first proposed as a viable invasion route for Hannibal by Sir Gavin de Beer in 1974. However, the theory didn’t get much traction in academic circles, according to Queen’s University Belfast.
Using a variety of geophysical techniques, including microbial metagenome analysis and environmental chemistry, the team identified what they term as a “mass animal deposition” event, which disturbed the bedding and increased organic carbon. The occurrence can be dated to around 218 B.C.
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“The deposition lies within a churned-up mass from a 1-meter-thick alluvial mire, produced by the constant movement of thousands of animals and humans,” said Chris Allen, of the Queen’s University Belfast’s Institute for Global Food Security, in a statement. “Over 70 per cent of the microbes in horse manure are from a group known as the Clostridia … We found scientifically significant evidence of these same bugs in a genetic microbial signature precisely dating to the time of the Punic invasion.”
The research team included members from Ireland, Canada, France, the U.S., and Estonia.
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